Climate change is without question a defining crisis but so is compassion

I was surfing through radio stations on my cellphone a couple of weeks ago while sitting on the bus and I heard the words “climate change refugee.” I stopped on the station from which these words rang out which unfortunately happened to be radio talkback station NewsTalkZB.

Yeah, I know: why on Earth I did not change the station as quickly as possible–simply as a measure of self-preservation–is beyond me. I knew what I would hear: a lot of people ringing in to rant with NewsTalkZB host Danny Watson, who I quite soon enough would find out is not fond of recognizing his own cognitive dissidence, talking about a deeply complicated and human crisis from a point of ignorance and xenophobia.

I was not disappointed.

The first caller swept the defining issue of climate change aside, suggesting that human induced climate chaos will not affect anyone in our lifetimes. In other words: this caller believed anyone claiming climate change refugee status is full of shit. The caller was responding to the case of Ioane and Erika Teitiota and their children, who have been living in Aotearoa since 2007 and applied for climate change refugee status in 2011. Teitiota and his family were recently denied this refugee status by our New Zealand supreme court. Ioane was deported back to his homeland of Kiribati on the 23rd of September and Erika and his children followed a week later.

The caller declared that “the climate change refugee needs to be sent back [home].” Not once did this caller who had phoned in to speak with Danny use Ioane’s name, preferring instead to refer to him as “that climate change refugee” or “the climate change refugee.” This was an act of dehumanisation. It is easier to condemn people to suffering and hardship when we do not know their names or their stories.

I kept listening while others called in to name Ioane and his family as “overstayers” echoing the position of our current colonial National PM John Key. Journalist Morgan Godfery in a recent email to me, wrote:

“The indication from Key was pretty clear: he labelled them “overstayers” (the rhetoric is uncomfortably close to the days of the dawn raids and the stigmatising of Pacific peoples).“

Not once did Danny challenge any callers on their prejudice or stigmatising language and I am not sure why I thought he might. I guess hope makes me more optimistic than I should be at times.

I decided to call into RadioZB for the first time ever and tell Danny and his listeners (who I swear are all old white dudes) the serious consequences and hardships that Erika, Ioane, and their children will face once deported to Kiribati. I know, it was a futile mission if ever there was one. I got on air with Danny and attempted to explain to him why the Teitiota’s should have been given climate change status. Paraphrasing from memory, I said:

In Island nations such as Kiribati which is the lowest lying country in the Pacific, ocean creep is destroying Kiribati’s groundwater supplies; the IPCC has predicted Kiribati will be devoured by rising oceans in our lifetime. In Aotearoa we have a responsibility to our Pacific neighbours to offer them climate change refugee status, and Kiribati is becoming uninhabitable. As the ocean rises, smashing over storm barriers, there is less and less land to live on so people are being forced, increasingly, into smaller and smaller living quarters. Poverty rates have exploded on Kiribati. This is no place to raise a family.

Danny disagreed, to say the least. He accused me of hyperbole and stretching the truth, telling me: “You will never win friends and influence people with that rhetoric.” If the types of friends I’d win by using a different “rhetoric” to the language of compassion I use in response to climate refugees would be people like Danny, I think I’d rather be a Nancy No Mates, thanks.

Danny even suggested we build a “climate change refugee camp” for people like the Teitiota’s. Interestingly, just last week climate activists from all over the Pacific staged a direct action outside of ANZ’s flagship bank on Queen Street, Auckland, assembling and then occupying a “future climate refugee camp.” As Pacific Scoop reported,

“The camp represented a future that the people of the Pacific are fighting hard to avoid. It aimed to highlight ANZ’s complicity in the climate crisis that puts all Pacific Island nations at risk, and to urge ANZ to divest from fossil fuels.



Pelenise Alofa of the Kiribati Climate Action Network demonstrates in front of the Queen Street branch of ANZ Bank. Photo / Alexandra Wimley


The very suggestion of a “refugee camp” as a solution for Pacific people who have been made homeless by the effects of climate change is exactly what many Pacific peoples are trying to avoid. But hey as always white dude commentator knows what’s best for indigenous people?

Danny even tried to qualify his stance on climate refugees by saying he had family/friends in Bali so they could claim “climate change refugee status because in 50 years a volcano might blow.”  This left me gobsmacked, mainly at Danny’s continued insistence on his sense of entitlement to an opinion defined by ignorance and his heartlessness.  

Unfortunately Danny’s very public views are not some aberration; his opinions on climate change are not in the minority in this country. Even as sea-levels continue to rise as the Arctic melts because the planet is warming and the dominant cause is greenhouse gas emissions, the NZ Herald reported that New Zealanders have some of the highest rates of skepticism over global warming in the world. Skeptic or not you cannot negate the mounting scientific evidence that climate change is without question the defining crisis of our life-time, but what also I learnt from Danny and his old white dude callers–other than calling ZB is a really bad idea if you want to disagree with the conservative host–is this: the lack of compassion within modern New Zealand society is also a critical issue; levels of compassion within our society seem already to be in crisis mode.  

It is important to note I started writing this political essay before the news came to light that Ioane had been served with an assault warning for pushing a female employer at his work place last year. Other employers have also come forward to report assaults by Ioane as OneNews stated last week. This assault warning was taken into consideration in relation to Ioane’s case for climate change refugee status as 3News pointed out. I have been assaulted and endlessly felt up by men at different workplaces as I work in the low-waged service industry; abuse is a daily threat I face and it is both scary and humiliating, and while it is obvious to say it should always be taken seriously by both employer and the police, they hardly ever do.

So, I ask: since when does National care about assaults against women, especially those in the workplace? Since before it slashed funding to rape crisis, or after? Since it cut all funding to the “It’s not OK!” campaign? Since John Key himself, over several months, harassed a young waitress at his local café and over and over again put his hands on her self without permission? Yeah, about that:

I guess gender-based violence and harassment of women is only taken seriously by John Key if he isn’t the one doing it, and if it serves his right-wing agenda. In this case John’s pathetic, desperate, scrabbling anti-refugee position and as Kanoa Lloyd pointed out on 3New’s “Newsworthy” if the man who perpetrated violence directed at a woman is a person of colour.  All that is actually happening here is another classic case of formalizing institutional racism.

If suddenly the National party cares so deeply about the welfare of vulnerable women why then wasn’t special consideration taken for Erika and her children? Why must they suffer for someone else’s actions? It is well established that it is women and children who are being disproportionately affected by climate change. However, the National government says nothing about this; no, not a fucking whisper. The ongoing hypocrisy of this government is breathtaking.

Journalist Taberannang Korauaba, indigenous to Kiribati, wrote for Pacific Scoop, “[Ioane] personally has no difficulty going back to Kiribati because he worked here and he can cope with life on the islands.” But there are fears for the welfare of his family once they are deported. Morgan Godfery explains these fears are not imagined; rather, they are more than real. In the NZ Herald he writes,

“If the Teitiota children are deported to Kiribati they will have to adjust to a new culture, a new environment, and even build up immunities to new diseases. They will most likely live on Tarawa, the main island, where dead bodies contaminate the freshwater lens, population density spreads disease, and ocean creep is poisoning breadfruit trees and taro plantations.”

While many living on Kiribati have labelled Ioane a “traitor” for speaking out about the conditions of the pacific nation and have accused him of “misrepresenting Kiribati” and wounding national pride as Public Address reported, there is, however, mounting evidence that Kiribati is becoming uninhabitable. This is a situation rapidly being compounded by the worst-case scenario effects of the onset of abrupt, catastrophic climate change. In his piece entitled “Exile By Another Name,” on Ioane’s plea for climate change status, investigative journalist Kenneth R. Weiss writes,

“since this case has come to light, Tarawa residents have been alarmed that 2,400 children fell ill and nine children died after picking up a rotavirus likely from sewage-contaminated water […] Other infectious diseases are taking advantage of the crowding in this island nation’s shanty towns. Tuberculosis is on the upswing. Leprosy is spreading.”

As ocean levels rise around Kiribati, those living on the islands are being forced into smaller and smaller living quarters; it is common knowledge that condensed populations can become the source for outbreaks of disease. Already on Tarawa there are 50,000 people packed into overcrowded shanty towns, and this is where Erika and her children, now, must live. As rising oceans continue to devour Kiribati, these deeply problematic and life-threatening issues are likely only to worsen.

People like Danny and other global warming skeptics believe they will not live to see the true and absolute devastation of abrupt climate change in their lifetimes, or, they at least make a “choice” not to acknowledge it. Why should he or others care about our responsibility to protect Papatūānuku or care for the welfare of those who will bear the brunt of human induced climate chaos? After all he thinks that the metaphorical volcano of climate change ain’t gonna blow for at least another 50 years, give or take.

But, it is exactly this kind of irresponsible and compassion-bereft attitude–that states climate change is somehow a non-issue and a problem for our next generations to deal with, held by Danny and our politicians such as John Key–that has, in part, led to so much widespread national inaction over such a defining and earth shattering issue.


If you would like to know more about the impacts of climate change here is an event my friend Cam Walker has helped to organise in Auckland:  

Auckland meeting: In the Eye of the Storm: Disaster Politics and Climate Change In the Philippines

You can  follow Chloe King on twitter



  1. Firstly …. respect – I remember trying to listen to that yelling,, opinionated white upper class, arrogant person who shoots us down when we show factual disagreement.. What a Wierd thing he said about winning friends. Pretty sure you have enough friends,, but still don’t understand his point. Just loves the sound of his own voice. Sadly he most likely encourages the apathy of so many who have children and grand child and would go to enormous lengths to show them love while they destroy their futures x



  2. What is wrong with this John Key character?? That’s idiotic of a grown man to do something so juvenile, and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

    Not to mention his stance on climate change and refugees.


    Liked by 1 person


    1. different rules for JK than for Ioane? What John Key did to that waitress was sexual harassment at the very least but when he does it, who cares? Yet his government took into consideration Ioane assault warning? hypocrisy much?



      1. Typical government official behavior. Ridiculous. And it’s also ridiculous that the hair-pulling went on for SO many months! I mean, however stupid it sounds, it’s a violation of boundaries. An adult should be able to know that, and to refrain from violating another person’s boundaries. It’s just unbelievable.


      2. The fact is she asked jk to stop multiple times and he did not. Which means he has no respect of boundaries or of Women’s voices really. And honestly in regards to Ioane, it is another case of ‘one rule for white guys, another for the rest.’

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He’s just using that as an excuse to not allow any refugees entry, at least that’s what it looks like to me.

        I understand not allowing people into your country who have a history of abuse or violence against others (and also a history of violating other people’s boundaries, like him!)….but then he’d have to take himself out of the country, as well. LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I totally agree with you. This reeks of racism and the National government just pimps out feminism when it suits them. John Key himself has continiously perpetuated rape culture and engages in victim blaming narratives around survivors of voilence. So yeah, pardon me if I can’t really get onboard with the National government using violence against women to deny a whole family of refugees safe habour.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “the lack of compassion within modern New Zealand society is also a critical issue; levels of compassion within our society seem already to be in crisis mode.” This is a bang on and vital observation of NZ society as we stand in all our callousness.

    Firstly, if this were NOT true, then people would be protesting en masse, burning the ears off the shite ‘white middle aged dudes’ on the airwaves, in anger and disgust, at the National Government’s ongoing crushing of their duty to look after our most vulnerable citizens. Feed the Hungry Kids Bill….nah. Compulsory warrant of Fitness for STATE housing & commercial rentals, to avoid ever having another child or adult die on the Government’s watch…nah. Shut down vital services in the community, such as Relationships Aotearoa and blame it on poor performance rather than chronic underfunding, outsourcing Mental health services offering profit for misery, their thinly disguised outsourcing ‘investment approach’ to our children in CYFS….

    Secondly..To accept a Climate Change refugee, would first involve the Government actually ACKNOWLEDGING Climate Change. Yes, the biggest Climate Change deniers in NZ, are none other than our frenzied Exploratory Drilling Permit granting National Government.

    Epic fail on all scores, but as you say, it’s a fail that ought to be shared ‘generously’, with many of our fellow Kiwi’s.

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Sing it sis. Agree with every word you wrote. Without a doubt this is a war on the poor and disenfranchsed. And to except climate refugees this government would first have to accept climate change is, in fact, happening. But politicians (both left and right) are often short sighted, greedy and neoliberal as fuck. I think if Kiwi’s had a better grasp on the issues around climate change, ff there had been better reporting on Ioane and his family and the serious challenges they would face on Kiribati,there would have been outcry from the public. I have to believe this because the alternative is, truely, people don’t care. And I know in my heart so many do. It is just hard to care deeply for the welfare of others when they gor you working precarious jobs for poverty wages. But that is the kicker right? The more we connect with each other, the more we hear each others stories, the more we feel like we are part of something — the more we feel like, perhaps, we hold some collective power?



  4. Well, you should have known, and you did know, but at least you gave it a go, which I would not have done. Danny is a braying jackass, as are all his adoring disciples. I cut such idots as them out of my life years ago. The bitter truth is that actually many of them do NOT care about anything but their own comfort. Why else would they vote for such a disgusting psychopath as Key? We will have to build a new society without them, which will be damned difficult, but we have to, there is no other option. My one satisfaction re them is that one day we will be proven to be right, but the sting in the tail of that is that we will not be exempt from the consequences of our being proven to have been correct. When their illusory world crumbles, we will need to have prepared ourselves for the rebuilding task, which is what we should be devoting most of our energies to now, and not wasting too much energy on them. But, hey, you already knew all of this! You were just making sure.

    Liked by 1 person


  5. Your article talks a lot about compassion. And I agree compassion is an important human emotion. But so are all the others. Compassion is no more important than love or hate, greed or envy. If you want to get historical, more has been accomplished by greed, hate, envy, pride, and fear, than love or compassion has ever done.

    We look at something bad and we feel compassion. So what! Compassion is great for little girls (no I’m not calling you a little girl) and kittens, but horrible for foreign policy. Foreign Policy based on anything but cold logic and national interest is going to fail. Look at the current US FP for an example of failure.

    These issues must be addressed at the point of origin. All you’re doing is shifting the problem. Until we solve the economic and cultural problems of these regions, you are simple importing the problems to you.



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